Trail Thoughts: New Shoes

My left shoe has a hole in it. I’m almost certain the hole wasn’t there a week ago, but here we are. The hole sits right where my big toe meets the ball of my foot, the protective rubber on the side of my shoe hanging off by a thread, seemingly accepting failure in performing its singular task. Not that I regret buying these shoes, mind you. These Hanwag boots have been my favourite brand to wear for a while now, and any malfunction is most probably due to a period of neglected maintenance on my end.

I can still wear the shoe in comfort, though I have to be careful not to step into any puddle deeper than the height of my soles. The fact that my left shoe has a hole in it is somewhat important because I’m walking the coastal hills and forested backcountry of Sweden. Never known for being particularly dry in summer, this year Sweden has the privilege of being extra wet, with a storm named Hans coming in to wreak havoc on the otherwise idyllic Scandinavian scenery around me.

Another reason for the narrative prominence of a pierced piece of footwear is the fact that I now need new shoes.

Little did I know that I would be entering a dark period in my life

As someone who tries to make a living adventuring around the world, getting a new pair of trusty hiking boots is always somewhat of a momentous occasion, a notable event worth a few words to reflect on the years passed since the last pair (I’m sure many of the prolific hikers reading this can agree). The last time I changed shoes, I traded in a pair of Hanwag boots that served me throughout some of the most important years of my life; I wore them new as I hiked the length of the Scottish highlands and started this travel blog in 2016, and I felt I discarded a pair of old friends when I put them aside when setting off from Greece in early 2020.

Being satisfied with my previous boots, I bought another pair of Hanwags in Greece to serve me for the years to come. A slightly different model, another great fit; I was ready to take on the world once again.

Little did I know that I would be entering a dark period in my life, and of the world.

I don’t have to explain how the world was hit by a virus of ‘unspecified origin’. I could write endlessly on how the pandemic negatively impacted tourism and those trying to make a living on it, but that would just be treading worn-out subjects that have been detailed and discussed far better by thousands of others.

More relevant to this story is the impact the strict, worldwide authoritarian measures had on a freedom-seeking traveller like myself. Of course, giving up travel while the world figured out how to deal with the situation wasn’t much of a sacrifice in the grand scheme of things. And for the sake of keeping this blog apolitical, I won’t dive into the subject further. Suffice it to say that at the time, the lockdowns contributed to my darkening mood and my unwillingness to keep writing new stories.

What made matters worse was a difficult breakup with someone I considered to be a potential nomadic life partner at the time. This messy separation, combined with my darkening mood over the state of the world, proved to be too much. It broke me completely and put me in an almost lethargic state as I was left wandering the Balkans without a plan, seemingly having lost the will to travel. I tried turning things around and ended up settling in Sofia, Bulgaria alone, after an ill-fated second attempt at our relationship in late 2021.

I slowly regained a sense of self again

Ironically, this second attempt was also the first step in getting out of my depressed state. Even though I was still alone and feeling low, I was proud of myself for having fought for what I thought was worth saving. And from that pride, I slowly regained a sense of self again. I spent the better part of 2022 settling in Sofia while letting go of my travel dreams, just for a while, so I could focus on rebuilding myself.

So where does my leaky shoe come into this story?

After a year in Sofia, I felt the call of the open road again. Relieved that I hadn’t lost my ambitions completely, I made plans to move to Norway and work with reindeer in the long dark of the arctic winter season. Naturally, my hiking boots moved with me. When the sun finally rose over the horizon again, I had spent a happy few months in a frozen landscape ringed by fjords and steep, snowy mountains and surrounded by good people and my furry, four-footed reindeer colleagues.

The wanderlust made itself known with the first melt of snow and ice on the fjords. I settled my affairs in Norway and took a train to Abisko, Sweden with nothing but a backpack full of gear and a head full of hope.

And this brings us back to the present, where on a Swedish forest trail a badly calculated jump sees me landing in a muddy puddle. As my left sock and the inside of my left boot now soak up the brackish water, I’m once again reminded of the need for new shoes.

In Scotland, old shoes are often associated with good luck. The Scottish superstition of hanging old shoes above the door at the start of the new year is supposed to bring good fortune, even more so when the shoes are left hanging a while. On the other hand, the Chinese believe buying new shoes during the Lunar new year actually brings misfortune.

I think I’ll play it safe and buy my new pair of hiking boots in August, well past the Chinese new year celebrations. And in light of all that has happened during the few years my current pair has served me, I think I won’t be hanging them from any doorframes. In fact, I think I’ll go back to the exact same model I wore when times were good and the wind was in my sails.

Maybe some of that good fortune will rub off on the times ahead.

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